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Safety First: It’s Time To Get A Handicapped Placard

The time had come.  I finally had to give in.  My legs weren’t behaving, and one of my hands was giving me trouble.  Overall, I felt weak, tired, numb, dizzy and b-l-a-h, b-l-a-h, b-l-a-h.

If you’re reading this, you know what I mean.

The year was 1990 and I’d been living with Multiple Sclerosis for a couple of years.  I wasn’t off to a great start.  This was all new to me, and I wasn’t used to the changes that were rapidly happening to my body.

Does anyone ever get used to that?

I was also feeling less sure of myself when I got behind the wheel of my car.  I couldn’t feel my right foot, and since that’s the important leg for driving, I had a problem.

My doctor suggested I get hand controls for my car, and apply for a handicapped placard.

Was she kidding me?  Hand controls?  A placard?  Why did I need to put something on the dashboard of my car that labeled me as incompetent?  Wasn’t there already enough of a stigma about being disabled (people weren’t using that term yet.) Why did I have to risk sticking out like a sore thumb in front of my friends and family? Most importantly, why would I want people staring at me whenever I used a handicapped parking spot?

Then I had one of those crystal clear moments that don’t come along too often.  I had one moment of clarity when a thought crossed into my stream of consciousness to point the way to a truth. That truth was this:

Being safe and taking good care of yourself is more important that anything else.

My consciousness was right.

So I got a prescription from my doctor to get hand controls installed in my car, and another one to apply for a handicapped placard.

While I waited for the mechanic to finish installing the hand controls, I felt nervous about comfortably driving without using my feet. It was going to feel odd driving with my hands, and I felt like a teen before her first driving lesson.

Yet I was determined to learn this new skill with courage and strength. And I did.

It was easy to learn how to use my hands instead of my feet to control the accelerator and brakes. It felt good to, once again, be at ease while driving, without the worry about safety. 

I felt proud of myself after accomplishing this new skill.

Now it was time to apply for a placard.

According to the website of my home state’s Motor Vehicle Commission, here are the requirements in order to get a handicapped placard.


If your condition falls into one of the categories listed below, you are eligible for wheelchair symbol plates and a placard that give you special parking privileges.

  1. Has lost the use of one or more limbs as a consequence of paralysis, amputation, or other permanent disability.
  2. Is severely and permanently disabled and cannot walk without the use of or assistance from a brace, cane, crutch, another person, prosthetic device, wheelchair or other assistive device.
  3. Suffers from lung disease to such an extent that the applicant’s forced (respiratory) expiratory volume for one second, when measured by spirometry, is less than one liter, or the arterial oxygen tension is less than sixty mm/hg on room air at rest; oruses portable oxygen.
  4. Has a cardiac condition to the extent that the applicant’s functional limitations are classified in severity as Class III or Class IV according to standards set by the American Heart Association.
  5. Is severely and permanently limited in the ability to walk because of an arthritic, neurological, or orthopedic condition; or cannot walk two hundred feet without stopping to rest.
  6. Has a permanent sight impairment of both eyes as certified by the N.J. Commission of the Blind (placard only).

Medical Certification Process Change Effective August 1, 2013

Certification by a qualified medical practitioner is now required as part of the initial and recertification application process. Qualified medical practitioners include physicians, podiatrists, licensed chiropractors, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants licensed to practice in this state or a neighboring state or a physician stationed at a military or naval installation located in this State who is licensed to practice in any state. The Motor Vehicle Commission requires a qualified medical practitioner to certify that you meet the eligibility criteria for the Person with a Disability identification card, placard and/or license plates. This certification requires a script from a qualified medical practitioner for your condition. If your medical practitioner is not authorized to write scripts then they are required to write a letter containing the same information that would appear on a script for your condition. The medical practitioner certification requires the disclosure of the practitioner’s National Provider Identification Number and their Taxonomy code.

I use my placard only when it’s absolutely necessary.  If I’m feeling tired or weak, or if it’s a particularly hot or frigid day, I make use of parking closer to my destination.  It makes my life easier, and less stressful by removing the worry of getting overtired.

As for the stigma that I once thought was associated with using a placard, I’ve learned that if anyone has a problem with my using it, it is simply their problem and not mine.  I know I am doing what I can to take the best care of myself. 

In the end, there is nothing more important than that.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Lisa
    6 years ago

    I, too, have a handicapped placard and have had one for 9 years now. I use it constantly as I need to preserve my energy for my family. If asked politely why I have one, I will answer, but I recently had a run in at the grocery store that I still cannot believe happened.

    I was parked in a disabled spot in front of the store, loading my groceries into my car. I had already put my purse and cane into the car as I have been known to forget them, plus they just get into the way. Two ladies parked right behind me (blocking my exit) and demanded to know why I was parked there. I told them that that was between me, my doctor and God. Well, they did not like my answer and started to lecture me on how important the parking spots are for disabled and older drivers. While one lady kept talking loudly (and yes, there was a crowd forming), the other flagged down a sheriff’s car. I let the two ladies have their say and when the deputy came up to me I got all my documentation from my purse and offered it to him. The ladies tried to see what he was looking at, but he told them to stay where they were. He apologized quietly to me, and in a voice that ALL could hear, informed the ladies that I had every right to use the parking spot and then asked me if I wanted to press charges for unlawful detainment! (I declined.)

    Yes, it would have been easier to have explained to the ladies about having MS and/or shown them my official card, and had they asked nicely, I would have. I’m certainly not ashamed of having MS, but as I’ve already had to learn to live with the embarrassment of buying incontinent supplies, of falling in public, and not being able to speak clearly, I feel like I’ve already given up enough privacy and work hard to retain any privacy I still have.

  • Teri Stanley
    6 years ago

    I am so glad you were able to come to terms with everything. EVEN if you think you are having a great day, think about using your placard. My doctor has repeated to me, SO MANY times… “Conserve your energy every way you can. It’s all about energy conservation.” So consider the distance, and go from there.
    Just a suggestion to fellow MSers! 🙂

  • Cathy Chester moderator author
    6 years ago

    Exactly, Teri. It’s all about conserving energy, because you might feel ok when you park, but after walking around a store or a mall you feel exhausted. The placard comes in handy.

  • north-star
    6 years ago

    I know the feeling, being conspicuous is uncomfortable but I agree about our safety being more important. I can’t teach strangers how to interact with me but I can educate about MS. When my disease was less visible, most people have a friend or relative with Parkinson’s, and though they are not the same disease, symptoms can come and go or be suppressed by medication, resulting in hidden disability. People with Parkinsons are also affected by temperature extremes, their nerves similarly damaged.

    It’s hard to be cheerful when challenged but the message is received and understood better when I’m cheerful about the situation. I think of myself as an ambassador, in a way.

    One time I got a snarl in passing as I walked from my parking space and I quickly said: “Trade ya… I’ve got MS!” The startled look was so worth it.

    As my movement is more compromised, I regularly get rides from friends to events, especially at night. I keep a placard in my purse and we ALL get that great parking spot. It’s a perk! Worth applying for the placard, I guarantee it. Nobody’s ever said: No, it’s too embarrassing! Let’s park farther away!!

  • Cathy Chester moderator author
    6 years ago

    You have a great spirit about it all, north-star. We will always be confronted with people who pre-judge, but education and awareness will help stop that. You are doing a wonderful job.

  • -lois-
    6 years ago

    Hi Cathy, I applied for a handicap placard about four years ago. I got it because I had a hard time walking from point A to point B. About a year and half ago I got in the car to drive and realized I was having a hard time lifting my right leg from the gas pedal to the brake. So I voluntarily remove myself from driving. A few months later I found I needed to use a walker all the time. I never use a cane because I felt like I was going to stab myself WHEN I fell. I had a little bit of an issue with vanity and yet I went from using no assistance to using a walker full-time and not being able to drive. 2013 was a tough year for me! I’m now 50. And yesterday I got my left-footed gas pedal installed on my car! I’m a little bit scared at the whole process of trying to reprogram my brain to drive with my left foot. But I’m also amazingly excited about my freedom being regained. Why did it take so long to get a left-footed gas pedal? Because I didn’t know they even existed. Thank you for letting people know that this is out there. With MS you don’t come born with the knowledge or surrounded by people who know what to do. It’s all new and takes unlimited years to find out the full extent of what you’re going to need. Now that I have my car and I can drive again, I have a thought and I wonder if anyone out there has an answer? I have to use my Walker to get into a store. I have to use one of their motorized carts to get around inside the store. What do people suggest you do with your walker once you’re in the store? I certainly don’t want to just leave it hanging around. And I can’t get to my car from the front desk ( of I left it there) with my bags. So what do people do? I know people do this I just wonder how?

  • Cathy Chester moderator author
    6 years ago

    I am glad you are taking care of yourself by using the assistive devices you need. It’s all about taking care of yourself first and foremost.

    As far as the walker, I’m unsure about the answer to that question. Perhaps others can address that. I know my father sometimes leaves his with the people at the courtesy counter, or he puts his cane inside the cart.

    You can post that question under Communities/Forums on this site, and also on our Facebook page.

    Good luck to you, Lois, and thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  • Cathy Chester moderator author
    6 years ago


    Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. I know too well the process you described of allowing yourself to realize that if you want to maintain a good quality of life, you have you must go ahead and do what it takes to maintain it. Of course for us that means placards, special plates, and also devices.

    I’m proud of you for doing that for yourself!

    I don’t have the answer to you question. I strongly suggest you post your question in the Forums/Communities section of this website, and if you are on Facebook, post the same question in their thread. If you use social media, I would also post the question on Twitter and remember to use the tag so that people from this site will see your question there as well. (You can also do that on Google+)

    Good luck with all you do. You are doing good things for yourself.

    Best to you always~

  • Kindred Spirit
    6 years ago

    I had the placard at first but when I needed new plates they offered the plate for free so I took that. I like that I don’t have to dig for it in my purse…the pit!

    I still get embarassed sometimes parking in the reserved spots and don’t unless I am feeling bad or to avoid the heat which is often in Florida. I feel like people are looking at me like what are you doing in that slot? I have no visible signs.

  • Cathy Chester moderator author
    6 years ago

    I know what you mean, Kindred Spirit, because I have no visible signs as well. In fact, a well known broadcaster on CNN asked me why I was parking where I did. I was appalled the WAY he said it, and told him I had an illness that was invisible.

    I got over the embarrassed part because if someone has an issue with my parking where I do, that is their problem. We have enough to deal with and shouldn’t have to worry about what others think.

    One more thing: last week a man came up to my car and my husband asked what does he want. He said he was checking why we parked where we did. I told him why, and then I thanked him for checking. He said he hates when people take handicapped spots when they don’t need to.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts here. It is greatly appreciated.

  • Climber
    6 years ago

    Great post Cathy – so relevant! And then there’s the choice of getting a placard or handicapped license plate. I chose placard – sometimes it’s easy to forget to hang the placard, but it’s nice it’s portable in case someone else gives you a ride. I got mine early on before many people knew about my MS so I didn’t want the symbol on my license plate. I didn’t use it unless needed. We lived in Texas at the time and using handicapped parking allowed me to park close and get from the air-conditioned car to the air-conditioned store before the heat zapped my strength. I use my placard all the time now and am grateful for the extra space to get on and off my scooter.

  • Cathy Chester moderator author
    6 years ago

    Good for you, Climber. (And thank you for the compliment)

    I think a placard is easier because, as you said, it’s portable. We often change cars so I can use it in each car.

    Yes, it makes our lives easier. I am so glad you opted for it, and that it’s helping you live a good quality of life!

    Thanks for sharing your story~

  • Rosemary
    6 years ago

    Hi Cathy! Thank you for offering a reality check. Unfortunately I’m still resistant to support devices as I know safety is important. I guess u can say that I am resistant and am willing to accept the consequences. Sounds ironic as I should accept my limitations. Thanks for your perspective.

  • Cathy Chester moderator author
    6 years ago

    Thank you for your honesty, Rosemary. I hope you are careful to stay safe while resisting any devices. My way of thinking is to make it easier for me to get around in order to have the best quality of life possible. But I honor and respect your decision, and anyone’s decision. It is a personal one.

    Remember we are all here for you if you DO make the decision to get hand controls or use any other devices.

    In the meantime, I wish you good health, and I thank you for responding to my post.


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